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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Sixty-four senators cast votes 35 for, 28 against, one abstention. Many more voices have since been heard.
Chatter regarding a Student Senate bill passed Wednesday The Religious Exemption Funding Bill, formerly The GLBT Funding Opt-Out Bill has pervaded campus and has attracted state and national scrutiny.
The bill aims to allow religiously objecting students to opt out of fees reaching various services to which they object. The amended, passed bill claims a system already exists at Texas A&M to afford students this privilege, and bill authors said the bill is designed to expand and make this system more accessible.
University spokesman Jason Cook said Thursday, however, that no such system exists.
Theres not a procedure in place for students to opt out of any student fees, Cook said. There is an appeals process in place but that process does not allow for appeals based on religious considerations.
Cook said the appeals process is for catastrophic circumstances and stressed that action from Senate is purely advisory and a non-binding decision that will be forwarded to University administration if the bill clears Student Body President John Claybrooks desk without a veto.
Opponents claim the bill is discriminatory against the GLBT-identifying community in its nature, but bill author Chris Woolsey, sophomore political science major, said his original intent of ensuring religious freedom with the logical, policy-oriented bill was twisted and construed by others.
Looking back on it, it was not the best bill and so thats why I amended it to become the bill it is now, Woolsey said. I think it is a good bill because theres nothing in there that can be construed as discriminating against anyone.
GLBT Aggies president Kim Villa said she is still processing what happened at the Senate meeting.
A lot of people walked away from the Senate meeting feeling disrespected and hurt. We havent had the chance to process what happened, Villa said. It was a lot for everybody there. We just want to make sure we continue on with GLBT Awareness Week and keep everyone positive.
From its introduction to its passing, the bill originally authored by Woolsey, who was joined by four more co-authors in the amendment process incited an outcry of support and dissension from those within the Bryan-College Station community and those observing from afar.
Speaker of the Senate Scott Bowen referencing the Wednesday sign-wielding crowd that filled the meeting chamber, two overflow rooms and Revs American Grill in the MSC said this is what student engagement looks like.
I was glad to see students engaged in student government, Bowen said. I think thats what democracy looks like.
Woolsey also said he would like to see that kind of enthusiasm at more Senate meetings.
This is an interaction between the students and Senate that needs to happen more often, Woolsey said.
Student engagement was not limited to the Koldus Building governance room. From the image of the equal sign calling for marriage equality to student-generated online petitions, social media avenues such as Twitter and Facebook were congested with comments and opinions Thursday.
Erin Williams, senior English major, began an online petition calling for a Claybrook veto of the bill that had tallied 4,029 signatures at time of press.
[An] angry Facebook status can only say so much and sometimes it only serves to alienate rather than bring people together, Williams said. I did one of the only things I thought I could do.
Williams said the signatures tell her that others share her sentiment.
We love all Aggies no matter who they are and I felt like someone was misrepresenting who I was and what my University is, Williams said. The biggest problem I have with the bill after it was revised, it carries a history with it. Even though it was amended and gutted, I dont know why they [thought] it wasnt going to carry all this weight with it.
Bowen and others in Senate used Facebook to share the text of the amended bill to dispel misconceptions they said had arisen.
People have a lot of ideas about the bill that arent accurate because of the media letting things spin out of control, Bowen said. Before taking an opinion, everyone should read it and then form an opinion based on the text.
Michael Dror, senior political science major, opened a Facebook group calling for Northside residents to sign a petition to un-elect Woolsey, who is a Northside senator. Under SGA bylaws, if the petition reaches 150 signatures within 14 days it would trigger a recall election.
Woolsey said the petition forms part of the democratic process.
I was elected by those students, Woolsey said. If they feel that I have done a bad job, then it is their responsibility and right to address it.
One Facebook group, titled We are Aggies: Aggies are we, was initiated by Anthony Pannone, an agricultural leadership, education and communication graduate student from California, who protested Proposition 8 on California street corners in 2008. Thursdays activism took Pannone away from the picket line and onto social media, which he said is a virtual classroom.
I included some of my buddies [from California] that are still living there and theyre like, Oh, no wonder. Go figure, youre in Texas. Were not surprised, and no wonder everyone thinks people from Texas are bigots. And so, I dont think it affects just the student body, thats kind of my point, Pannone said.
We are Aggies: Aggies are we reached 455 members at time of press.
Another manner of protest involved current Aggies and former students choosing not to wear their Aggie Rings out of shame for the Senate decision.
I just felt like the ring held no meaning anymore, said Molly Latham, Class of 2011. So I just kind of decided that, until it does, I would just decline on wearing it.
Williams said the actions of the 35 senators in favor of the bill shouldnt keep Aggie rings off the hands that earned them.
To those of you who have taken off your Aggie Rings today, please put them back on, Williams said. Dont let the misguided viewpoint of a few students dictate who an Aggie is.
News of the bill reached well beyond Texas A&M and was reported by national news aggregator The Huffington Post, student newspapers such as The Daily Texan and GLBT-advocacy blogs such as Purple Unions and Campus Pride.
Woolsey said the press could be credited to the un-amended bill.
The national attention was due to the original version of the bill before it was amended, Woolsey said. I think it was leftover emotion. I think they might have been focused on the old version of the bill and didnt fully realize that this new version was different and it included every religious belief.
Some students said they supported the bill and dont think that makes them discriminatory.
Just because I dont necessarily support this part of your lifestyle doesnt mean that the love and the 12th Man bond isnt there, said Jared Jones, sophomore communications major.
Cook said all parties should look at the long-term view of the situation and that a University in existence for more than 130 years is going to have good days and bad days.
We feel that Texas A&M is a welcoming place and we value all students and their opinions, Cook said.

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